Sep 29, 2011

Posted by in All The Galaxy's A Stage | 3 Comments

All The Galaxy’s A Stage: Species and RP

All The Galaxy’s A Stage is a regular column at Ask A Jedi with some lofty, creative goals.  On one hand, we will be discussing and exploring meaningful topics to support the role-play experience and community.  On the other hand, we also want to introduce the casual Role-Player to the writing-acting experience that can add so much more to an MMORPG like Star Wars: The Old Republic.  Share your perspectives and experience as we co-create magical story in that galaxy far, far away!

Do you remember the first time you watched A New Hope, and the heroes walked into the Mos Eisley cantina?  I do.  And given how soon this scene had followed the giddy moment of Obi-Wan’s hand waving I knew I was watching a very, very special film.

Are you one of those who when you heard SW:TOR was being developed thought that you’d get to role-play [insert exotic alien here] species?  I recognize that there may be some of you that are lamenting the lack of playable Togruta, Bothans and Nautolans, to name but a few, in the game.  However, this article is not about rehashing the design choice or the subsequent justification that Daniel Erickson keeps offering.  As a Role-Player I’ve spent many nights over the past 30 years pretending I’m not human, and pride myself on my ability to relate to the character regardless of species.  However, role-players are not the majority.

Don't mind the mask. I'm actually playing an Ithorian Jedi

Like many a role-player I spent some time thinking about what role-playing an alien species in SW:TOR would mean.  As I started my mental exploration a series of questions came to mind faster than a smuggler looking to talk up the price.  I started with asking myself if I’d portray a non-playable race?

My initial reaction was, why not?  After all, if I had this amazing Mon Calamari trooper in mind (maybe I love my fish?) and RP is all about creating story using your imagination then what’s the problem?  However, I also realized that there would be many interesting situations where other players would not know my character was a Mon Calamari.  And since I’m not a fan of relying on OOC and tells to make a point with strangers in RP I realized my preference would be to focus on RPing the same species as my avatar.

The next question concerned my choice of species for my main character.  Sa Chi, my Jedi Sage, is Miraluka.  As soon as this species was announced as playable I just had to try it on for size.  I guess that after all these years of role-playing that I still enjoy something that is going to present a fresh challenge.  And I was captivated with the idea that Miraluka use Force Sight to see.

From there a whole new set of questions started to arise.  For example, how does one emote and play out the sensory input for a Miraluka?  After all, as humans we relate to images captured by the eyes and interpreted by the brain.  Role-play, and in particular emoting, takes on a whole new dimension (literally) around mundane things such as blinking, using your eyes to convey emotions, or seeing things and responding to them.

Like any good role-player I did my research.  I started by reading up on Force Sight.  What I read amazed me.  The innate approach by Miralukans to seeing the world includes enhancing the bearer’s visual and spatial perception even in the dark or behind walls, as well as countering Force persuasion and Force blinding powers.  But what I was more interested in was the use of this power by the Miraluka to “constantly to compensate for their physical blindness.”  Force Sight won’t allow colours to be perceived but will distinguish between organics (including the dead) and their alignment from the surrounding environment by auras.  Objects like walls and doors appear translucent, effectively allowing them to see through them.  The big realization was that Force Sight would require me to learn a new way of relating to the world because everything my character sees is from the perspective of energy and auras.

After a year of role-playing with this character I have to confess that the enforced Force Sight has become one of the most invigorating elements of playing this character.  I always have to be aware with even the simplest of emotes.

What are your thoughts around role-playing alien species?  Have you had similar experiences you’d like to share?  Do you plan on suspending belief and role-playing a non-playable species?

  1. Well, I haven’t had too many Star Wars roleplaying experiences yet, but one of the things I did enjoy from Age of Conan’s RP were the culture clashes, you had three different races with different cultures, ideas, habits and morals, and they wouldn’t always see eye to eye, so it was interesting to meet characters who simply think in a very different way, if not on a different level from yours. And trying to meet a consensus where despite their differences they can (hopefully) get along.

    Considering many Star Wars alien species cultures are much like different human cultures (some pretty blatantly so, even), I hope that there’ll be some of that coming back in TOR. Although I would imagine a 6th generation Coruscant born Twi’lek has little in common with a Ryloth Twi’lek in terms of attitude and behaviour, just look at Mission from KotOR. But that in itself could make for interesting RP between a Ryloth native and a Twi’lek born and raised off-world.

    And finally I do hope that people will be content with playing the species they are supposed to be. Although I would imagine some players will try to pass off their human as a Zeltron, in which case I will roll my eyes. Zeltrons are a race of Mary Sues so you’re basically hamstringing yourself in your efforts to make a character that can be taken seriously as first you’ll have to prove to the world you’re not like the majority of Zeltron characters found in Star Wars lore.

  2. I’ve done some PnP and online text-based (MUSH, primarily) roleplaying (including Star Wars) for almost as long as you, albeit with less frequency than I’d have sometimes liked. As a result, and most likely my own temperament, I tend to have a rather high standard for RP. I’m not above accusing myself of a certain level of elitism when it comes to that.

    (Which is to say that nothing annoys me quite as much as when someone roleplays an alien race as “tee hee, I’m a human with blue skin!” or replies to my efforts with a mere “Bambi giggles”.)

    To address what Bielduwyn said, I’ve also frequently muttered to myself about how so many non-human races in Star Wars – Star Trek is also guilty of this – are essentially humans in funny wigs with some ‘racial quirk’ that’s supposed to make them alien. However, I do appreciate that it is a herculean task to even begin to properly develop an alien race and culture. As such I try to limit my actual irritation to wishing that those who create these races would move from quantity a little more in the direction of quality. It’s that much more painful when someone RPing an alien race makes no effort to flesh out those aspects that make that character alien. Though, again as Bielduwyn pointed out, the environment in which a character is raised will have its own impact.

    I’ve always found it fun and a creative challenge to put such questions to myself and come up with a reasonable answer. I try to avoid or strictly limit including things that are based solely on hey-that-sounds-cool. It’s a nice sense of accomplishment, even if much of it ends up not being appreciated by those I RP with. Some things may not even be noticed by them because they’re cultural or otherwise behind the scenes elements that are primarily there for my own edification.

    All that said and done, I’ve never felt tempted to RP in an MMO environment. As you probably guessed, my elitist inclinations are one of the big reasons. The other reason is that I’ve yet to run into an MMO that provides any support for RP. No expanded stable of emotes, no proper text editor, nothing.

    Rhetorical question time! How interested can the developers be in RP if the only difference between so-called RP servers and their PvE counterparts are their RP/PvE tags?

    Last but not least, on the question of playing/portraying a race other than the avatar’s, I’m not sure I’d care to try it. If my avatar were human but I’m actually trying to portray a mon calamari it’d be a jolt to immersion every time I had to remind myself of that fact. I’m sure the same would be true for most other people. Not to mention that every time someone else comes along you’d have to pause to explain to them that even though your avatar is human, you’re playing some other alien race. It’d be akin to going to a Halloween party in jeans and a t-shirt and telling everyone, “Pretend I’m dressed us as Chewbacca.”

    I can see that it could work for a cohesive group who play together frequently, since everyone would get used to it and there would be no need for explanations or reminders beyond the first few times.

  3. No Togrutas, bah humbug!

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